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When did fashion models stop smiling? A brief history

fashion models

At Chanel’s 1993 show, the most renown fashion models of all time walked the runway, accompanied by huge smiles on their pretty pouts. Looking at today’s runway shows, those pretty pouts are still present, yet their smiles have fade away. Why? Let’s figure out.
Cover photo: © Unsplash

A million dollar smile

While most models have million dollar smiles, just a few are lucky to use them for shoots and campaigns. However, the super models of the ’80s and early’90s weren’t afraid to laugh, though. When Naomi Campbell fell during a Vivienne Westwood show (1993), she didn’t do anything but laugh. It wasn’t at coincidence that the applause she got was beyond the moon.

Heroin chic

Soon after, the heroin chic look became the new norm. It was characterized by skinny girls, dark circles around the eyes, visible bone structure and pale skin. This look was a reaction against the vibrant supermodels of the ’90s, such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer.

In 1993, Calvin Klein released a campaign for its Obsession scent, with Kate Moss as their model. Moss was the icon and embodiment of heroin chic, with her skinny body and flaffy hair. However, campaigns like these were widely criticized. Even the then president, Bill Clinton, openly spoke out against this new form of chic and the way in which Calvin Klein used it to sell clothes. He said: “The glorification of heroin is not creative, it’s destructive. It’s not beautiful; it’s ugly. And this is not about art, it’s about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.

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When renowned fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti accidentally died at age 20 – after an overdosis of heroin, this ‘trend’ couldn’t stay any longer. Sorrenti’s death was a turning point for the industry, as The New York Times wrote in 1997. Sorrenti’s photos were entirely in line with his lifestyle; models looking drugged, unhealthy and skinny posed for his camera, at locations many of us rather wouldn’t be after 9 pm. Sorrenti wasn’t the only one, though. Big names such as Juergen Teller, Craig McDean, David Sims and Terry Richardson were guilty as well. After Sorrenti’s sudden death, magazine editor’s became stricter and always wanted to know the direction of the shoot before it would take place.

And so did heroin chic slowly fade away. When one of the best paid fashion models of all time entered the scene around 1999, Vogue said that Gisele Bündchen brought back the healthy dose of glamor. A brighter period followed, but the new generation fashion models still remained quite serious, except at occasions like Victoria’s Secret and associates.

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Today’s fashion models

Did fashion in general became a more serious business? Does it have to do with an after shock of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements? When looking at the current state of the world and the fashion industry’s role in it, there’s not much to laugh about. According to World Bank, the fashion industry is held responsible for ten percent of global carbon emission, which is more than those of flights and maritime shipping combined.

However, we doubt this is the reason why fashion models have stopped smiling at the runways. Smiling in campaigns and on runways simply isn’t experienced as chic nowadays. It perhaps has something to do with the infleuncer culture – big fashion models have simultaneously become supermodels. With social media as the most important means to measure success, people in general have started to take themselves more seriously.

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Modeling today is more about doing the job well than ever before. Smiling is believed to distract attention from the clothes, which should be the focal point of attention during a fashion show. The fashion designers didn’t do all the hard work for nothing after all. Back in 2007, when Reuters investigated this topic, the head of France’s fashion federation clearly explained the models’ lack of emotions: “When they smile you look at their smile. When they don’t smile, you look at the dresses. It’s probably better for the dresses.

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It might be one of the explanations. At Jean Paul Gaultier’s very last Haute Couture show, models laughed out loud. They were visibly having fun. It didn’t shift attention from the clothes, which were all pieces of art in themselves.

However, the goofy YouTuber who suddenly joined models in Chanel’s runway wasn’t that chic after all. Gigi Hadid removed the model from the runway with a face without any expression – which was quite chic in the end. On top of this, one of fashion’s most influential people – Anna Wintour – rarely smiles either. Did she set the trend? Will we all be covering up ourselves after our shades, while looking neutral or even grumpy?

We’re not so sure. After all, fashion ís a serious business. Its impact on the planet is serious, but we shouldn’t overlook the aesthetic part. While some say they don’t care about fashion, they actually do. Clothes express feelings and emotions. Sometimes these can be serious, but not all the time. Therefore we call: try to make daily life a little brighter. Start with a smile, wherever you are.

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